Faculty members who are part of Eastern Michigan University’s American Association of University Professors union chapter are hoping that 666 will prove to be a lucky number in their ongoing strike at the institution, which began on Thursday. It’s the number of professors that Howard Bunsis, president of the chapter, says are members of the union.
The professors said that the university has offered a pay package that would increase salaries by 3 percent, but that newly proposed out of pocket expenses for health insurance would result in a net decrease in compensation of 1 percent.
University officials said they couldn’t discuss specifics of the contract because they didn’t want to provide information that might disrupt ongoing discussions.
“There is no way that we can accept this,” said Bunsis, who remained in negotiations with the institution throughout the Labor Day weekend. “Our raises have always been below the rate of inflation. This cannot continue.”
This is the fifth strike by professors since the AAUP union formed at Eastern Michigan in the early 1970s. Most of the strikes tended to be resolved quickly, often meeting professors' expectations.
Several faculty unions in Michigan over the summer have achieved net salary increases of at least 4 percent at colleges and universities throughout the state. Northern Michigan University, Ferris State University, and Oakland University have all recently averted strikes through negotiations that have been accepted by a majority of unionized faculty members at those institutions.
Bunsis said he wished that administrators at Eastern would follow suit. “But they just don’t get it,” he said this weekend.
Ward Mullens, a spokesman for the university, said that administrators have been accommodating to professors, and have held over 20 negotiating sessions since June.
The university also claims  that a strike by public employees is illegal under Michigan law. Officials accused the union last week of having engaged only in “surface bargaining,” while being “intent on striking.”
With classes set to begin Wednesday, administrators have taken a hard line with the union, setting a deadline of 10 p.m. on Tuesday for the strike to end.
If professors do not call off the strike by then, the university’s Board of Regents has directed the administration to suspend further negotiations until the strike ends.
“The university needs to focus all its efforts on fulfilling its obligation to students by ensuring classes start on time,” Karen Quinlan Valvo, chair of the board, said in a statement over the weekend.
Students have been told that move-in and orientation will proceed as scheduled.
Pamela Young, a spokeswoman for Eastern, said Monday that if the strike goes forward past the start of classes that adjuncts and professors who aren’t part of the union would be expected to fill in as needed. She also said that she expects some union faculty members “to put students first.”